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Bernard’s inclusion boosts medal hopes

Cycling South Africa (CSA), as well as the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), deserves to be complimented for selecting Bernard Esterhuizen for the national team that will compete at the Commonwealth Games in India in October.

It proves that SASCOC is serious when they talk about winning 12 medals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Esterhuizen might just win one of those 12 medals for South Africa.

The 17-year old Durbanite caused quite a stir when he won the one-kilometre time trial in a world-class time of 1min 03.265sec at the UCI Junior World Track Championship in Italy. He also finished fourth in the Keirin final and sixth in the match sprint final.

Esterhuizen returned to South Africa only this week after an eight-month training stint at the UCI Training Academy in Switzerland.

Trying to persuade South Africa’s first pro-elite world track champion since the fifties to talk about his golden moment at the UCI Junior World Track Championship, proved to be no easy task. After battling, without success, for more than 10 minutes to get Esterhuizen to boast just a little, it became clear that this youngster was definitely much faster on his track bicycle than with his mouth.

However, there was one fact that Esterhuizen was happy to acknowledge: ÔÇ£I lack experience. I know I am fast enough to beat the world’s best, but I am not always clever enough. I tend to make vital mistakes and in track sprinting I cannot afford to do that because every hundredth of a second counts.ÔÇØ

For this reason William Newman, Cycling South Africa, should be applauded for making sure that Esterhuizen will compete at the Commonwealth Games.

Newman said: ÔÇ£Before the announcement of the first Commonwealth Games team, I explained to SASCOC why it was important to select Esterhuizen.┬á I told them that he is definitely included in CSA’s vision for the Olympic Games.┬á It is, therefore, important that he should gain experience by making use of every possible opportunity to compete against the world’s best.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£I must admit that I was disappointed when Bernard did not make it in the first cut, but I give SASCOC credit for being prepared to listen to me for a second time after Bernard won his gold medal in the 1km time trial.ÔÇØ

As mentioned, Esterhuizen is hesitant to boast about his cycling achievements. In an interview of about 10 minutes the only interesting fact that he was willing to divulge, was that he started to cycle when he was eight years old. When he was 14 he decided to be a track cyclist and since then he has won numerous medals at South African track championships.

He is driven by the belief that he has the ability to become one of the world’s best. That is why he did not think twice before accepting the opportunity to go to Switzerland to train at the UCI Academy.

Esterhuizen admits that it was tough being away from his parents and friends for eight months. At times he was very homesick, but he knew that he had to make sacrifices in order to achieve his dreams. ÔÇ£Luckily, I also made some good friends in Switzerland.ÔÇØ

Esterhuizen is full of praise for the coaching at the Academy. ÔÇ£If it had not been for the people at the Academy, I certainly would not have won a medal. The coaches really go out of their way to ensure that you a have a fair chance of becoming a world champion.ÔÇØ

When asked whether he had any role models, Esterhuizen hesitated before he finally said ‘not really’. However, he is full of praise for the way Sarah Hammer, the individual women’s pursuit world champion, helped him.

It is not generally known that Esterhuizen comes from a true KwaZulu-Natal cycling family.  His father is Wickus Esterhuizen. Wickus competed at the World Veteran Cycling championships in Manchester in the year 2000 in the age group 35+.  Then, in 2001 and 2002, Wickus rode at these championships again and won the sprint title on both occasions.

This means that there is a possibility that we might have the first father and son in South Africa who become world champions in the same sport.

Newman had other good news about the Commonwealth Games. SASCOC agreed that Jay Thomson and Jaco Venter may also compete in the scratch race on the track at the Games. The fact that South Africa will have three riders in the race certainly increases the chance of winning a medal.

When asked about Bernard Esterhuizen’s gold medal achievement at the UCI’s Junior World Track Championship in Montichiari, Italy, an elated JP van Zyl, a former South African track cycling great, said:

ÔÇ£Back in the days when I finished fifth in the sprints during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, I thought that I was the ‘Real Deal’, but Bernard’s winning performance in the one kilometre time trial is something else. It is an unbelievable performance. Nobody can doubt any longer that Bernard is the ‘Real Deal’ of SA track cycling.

ÔÇ£His winning time of 1:03.265 is world class. In my opinion it is lightning fast and a new South African senior record.ÔÇØ